The All-Girl Filling Station Last Reunion – Fannie Flagg
Chatto & Windus
A couple of confessions to make – I simply love Fannie Flagg’s writing and I grew up in a filling station (rural Ireland, not Wisconsin..) so it’s obvious why I was drawn to her latest novel. Admittedly we didn’t race around the forecourt on roller skates or have a kissing booth – minor technicality!
If you’re into heartwarming stories with that southern twang and if you enjoy a few tears with your laughter then you’re onto a winner with this story. There are two narrative threads, one set in contemporary Alabama, although sometimes you might be forgiven for thinking time has stood still in Point Clear, Alabama, the other story set in 1940s Pulaski, Wisconsin via Poland. In the present, almost 60 year old Sookie (Sarah Jane) Poole is having a well-deserved rest after marrying off her three daughters. Well, she could have a rest if it wasn’t for the constant demands of her elderly mother Lenore, a narcissistic southern matriarch who is obsessed with preserving the glory of the family name. In the past, four young sisters of Polish descent discover endless opportunities open to them when World War II occupies their men folk. The ever widening horizons of the Jurdabralinski girls contrast sharply with the insular, claustraphobic life of Sookie who doesn’t really know what her role is now that all her children have flown the nest. The author skilfully draws the two threads together until the bomb drops and Sookie’s life is forced to take a new direction.
Okay, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what way the narrative is heading but Flagg’s stories are less about what she tells you and more about how she tells you. It’s like sitting down with an old friend and having a catch up. You quickly feel like you’ve known these characters forever. The more cynical reader might be inclined to find Sookie tiresome or her mother Lenore just too much but perhaps these readers cannot imagine the psychological distress caused by empty nest syndrome or the frustration of dealing with a snob, especially if that snob is your own mother! Even the subsidiary characters are vividly presented – from the “normal”, understanding husband, Earl to the wacky, new-age Maravaleen.
If I enjoyed Sookie and pals, I simply fell in love with the Jurdabralinski family and their exploits – from their efforts to make the filling station stand out to Fritzi’s wing walking to their wartime duties as WASPs ( Women Airforce Service Pilots). I hadn’t realised such women existed never mind how poorly they were treated at the time – WASPs who were killed in service were neither accorded military honours nor was compensation given to their families. I loved how the author incorporated this fascinating part of history into this novel.
I can always rely on Fannie Flagg to entertain and engage me with her wit, humour, empathy and joie de vivre and The All Girl Filling Station encapsulates all of those qualities. Highly recommended for existing fans and for anyone who enjoys good old-fashioned storytelling.
WASPs during WWII